On Sunday Crimeans voted decisively to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation as the United States and the EU warn Russia not to annex Crimea as they prepare to slap on sanctions for its intervention in Ukraine.
With over three quarters of the votes already counted, the Crimean Electoral Commission reported on Sunday that 96.7 percent of Crimeans voted in support of having the Autonomous Republic of Crimea join Russia.
Thousands of Russian troops wearing masks and uniforms with no insignia have recently occupied the contested region of Crimea over the past 2 weeks, bolstering support for its integration into Russia.
The outcome of Sunday’s referendum vote came as a little surprise to most since Crimea has a Russian ethnic majority with strong cultural and political ties to mainland Russia.
The U.S. Department of State took to twitter on Sunday and tweeted,
“The U.S. calls on the international community to stand in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
On Sunday the White House released a statement affirming that the United States would not recognize Crimea’s referendum.
“President Obama emphasized that the Crimean ‘referendum,’ which violates the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under the duress of Russian military intervention, would not be recognized by the United States and the international community.”
The U.S. and the EU are threatening Russia with sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes.
On Saturday Russia vetoed a UN. near unanimous resolution that declared Crimea’s referendum vote illegal.
Thirteen UN. members voted in favor of the resolution while only China abstained, underscoring the alienation that Russia faces on the international stage concerning the annexation of Crimea.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Saturday that the Crimean people have a right to self-determination under the U.N. Charter.
However, some political experts have a difficult time reconciling Russia’s recent push for self-determination rights in the case of Crimea while Russia simultaneously resists self-determination rights within their own borders in the case of Chechnya.
Professor Leslie Holmes, a political science professor at Melbourne University, said on Bloomberg’s First Up that Russian President Putin arguing for self-determination rights in the UN charter may eventually backfire on him.
“Because once he started arguing as he has with Chancellor Merkel over the week-end, that the United Nations charter allows countries or peoples to decide their own future, what is he going to do when Chechens and others in the southern part of Russia start saying, ‘we actually would like to leave Russia?'”
From a legal perspective, Russia faces an uphill battle convincing the international community that it has the legal authority to annex Crimea because it directly opposes the conditions of the Budapest Memorandum, signed by Russia and several other international countries which contain 6 provisions, including obligations by Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its existing borders of 1994, while not threatening it or using force.
In exchange for accepting the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine gave up the world’s third largest nuclear weapons stockpile between 1994 and 1996.
Recent News From Ukraine
Now that Russia has is one step closer to annexing Crimea with Sunday’s overwhelming referendum vote, there are growing concerns that Russia may try to intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine on the pretext of “protecting ethnic Russians” since the region also has a sizeable number of ethnic Russians.
Ukraine’s government said over the week-end that 60,000 Russian troops have amassed along the eastern border that Ukraine shares with Russia.
On Saturday Ukrainian Interim Foreign Minister Andrei Deshchytsa accused Russian military forces of entering mainland Ukraine and seizing a natural gas terminal just north of the border from Crimea in southern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s government sent troops on Saturday to surround the gas terminal but no shots were fired.